Review: Nightwing: The Great Leap trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 12, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Battle of the Cowl and the general new Batman direction]

Peter Tomasi offers an impressive end to a troubled book in Nightwing: The Great Leap. In many ways it seems the "Batman Reborn" storyline coming out of Batman: RIP is less about the popular Grant-Morrison-helmed Batman title itself than about the ancilliary Bat-titles, none of which were hitting the top of the charts given numerous rotating creative teams. Each must now bow out, and there are right and wrong ways to do so; Tomasi gets it right, and believably sets up Nightwing for the next phase in his life.

Nightwing, most readers know by now, becomes the new Batman in the wake of Battle for the Cowl; this trajectory is something I couldn't help but see in The Great Leap, and as well surely something that Tomasi intends. One of the winningest moments of this book is when Tomasi has Dick Grayson leave his home in New York and take the train in to Gotham City, much as a young Bruce Wayne, in Batman: Year One, took the train into Gotham after his travels abroad. (Correction: It was Gordon. Still a great moment by Tomasi).

In this, Tomasi suggests that all of Nightwing's past to this point is prologue, and his role now as Gotham's protector is where the real story begins. Tomasi ends the story clearing away much of the baggage that other writers created between Batman and Nightwing, leaving it that Bruce Wayne cared for Dick Grayson, and now Dick will care for Gotham in Bruce's stead. There's plenty of ways in which this is too easy or quick, but certainly it's the happy ending that the Nightwing title always needed to end with, and I very much admire Tomasi for delivering it.

In the wake of Batman's disappearance, the Harvey Dent aspect of Two-Face recruits Nightwing to help save an endangered trial witness from Two-Face himself. The encounter with Two-Face reminds Nightwing of their early defining battle when he was Robin, even as the Bat-family comes to grips with Batman's apparent death. Nightwing must later contend with Ra's al Ghul while deciding what his role will be in a Gotham without Batman.

Roundabouts Batman: Prodigal, another story that saw Nightwing considering life post-Batman, someone at DC noticed that Two-Face factored heavily into the origins of Robins Jason Todd and Tim Drake, and as such retroactively added a major fight between Dick Grayson and Two-Face. Viola; instant arch-enemy. Though not much has been done with that story since, Tomasi picks it up here, giving Nightwing and Two-Face a relationship somewhat akin to Wally West and Zoom in Flash -- Two-Face becomes like Nightwing's "other father," opposite of Batman, who introduced Dick to fear rather than hope from a young age.

Most notably, Tomasi offers an epilogue to "The Great Leap" storyline (with great art by Doug Mahnke) where Nightwing and Two-Face simply talk, and where Nightwing notes that he does not see the former Harvey Dent when he looks at Two-Face, only the villain. This is a startling difference between Nightwing and Batman, well-concieved by Tomasi, and it's part of Tomasi's characterization of Nightwing in this book that helps one see Nightwing not so much as his own man, but as a worthy successor to the Batman. Nightwing appears here as having learned the lessons of his mentor, enough such that as Batman he would do his mentor proud.

There's many such instances like that in this book. Deb, Tomasi's romantic complication du jour for Dick Grayson, breaks up with him in one of the most bloodless and amicable splits in comic book (and certainly Batman) history; Dick accepts that his life is now meant to be spent in service of Gotham City and he takes only that role without the angst we've seen before. When Nightwing assists the Justice League with the building of a heroes' memorial, we see in Nightwing the friendship with other heroes that Batman couldn't accomplish; when Dick Grayson jumps out of an airplance, breaking records only he will know about, we see his peace in an inner life that Bruce Wayne never had. This is a Nightwing, the reader understands, who has learned both from Batman's tutelage and mistakes, and as such his ascension to the cowl makes a perfect sense when at times it couldn't have seemed more unlikely.

For me, The Great Leap cements Peter Tomasi as a writer to watch. The climactic fight that he writes between Nightwing and Two-Face, with scarred acidic pennies raining from the sky and Nightwing jumping between flying dirigibles to reach Two-Face is nothing short of an astounding action scene (with credit, too, to Doug Kramer and Rags Morales for selling these concepts throughout the book). One of my favorite Batman stories is Marv Wolfman's A Lonely Place of Dying, which introduced Tim Drake but also pits Batman against Two-Face; Two-Face is in his hokey glory here with exploding death traps and "two"-related clues; it was that kind of widescreen, manic, Bat-action joy that I felt Tomasi captured. I've liked Tomasi's work on Green Lantern Corps, and the action and heart he brings to The Great Leap make me eager for what this writer might do next.

[Contains full and variant covers, Origins & Omens pages]

Read another review of Nightwing: The Great Leap at Oz and Ends.
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5 comments:

  1. I guess Dick being Batman proper at some point was almost always inevitable. It's ben enjoyable so far, but I have to admit that it just doesn't... feel right. I miss Bruce. =/

    I hope he returns to the cowl soon. Things like the "Arkham Asylum" game and re-reading some of Grants earlier work only makes this feeling stronger. Or maybe it's just my intense Batman fanboyism. I dunno.

    I just hope Dick as Batman isn't drug out just because it's being recieved well. I already get the feeling it will be; it sounds like Frank Quitely's return, which is an arc that's supposed to hit many of the beats Grant's set up from the beginning and in Batman #666, has been pushed back. So Franzer Irving is the fourth arc artist.

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  2. Thanks for the link and comments back at Oz and Ends. As I wrote in response there, I've found Collected Editions to be one of the most useful resources on the 'net for catching up on developments in the DCU.

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  3. Great review, on a personal note a part of me really wishes they had used Ethan Van Scivers variant cover as the cover for the TPB. Just a thought.

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  4. Excuse me, I know this is about five years late, but a small correction. Bruce took the plane into Gotham in Year One. Gordon took the train. Bruce lamented that he should have taken the train, since he couldn't see the enemy from up above.

    Love your blog, by the way. Came here looking for reviews on Morrison's final volume of Action Comics and, well...let's just say I've been reading a lot to end up here.

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    1. That's the Comment of the Day, my friend. Excellent correction. Thanks for checking out the site.

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